IUPAC ’09: Chemistry in the main (group)

So since Monday I’ve been hopping between a few different symposia, starting with Functional Metal Complexes and Ligand Design, a meaty bit of Main Group Chemistry and finishing off with a little Degradable Polymers for Biomedical Applications. And of course the Plenaries ranging from the H + H2 reaction (a truly excellent talk from Dick Zare) to dendrimers/graphene ribbons (and a lot else besides from Klaus Müllen) to protein misfolding (well put across for chemists by Christopher Dobson). [It’s nice to see the increasing numbers of atoms involved in those three talks – which is certainly not to say complexity based on some the calculations/experiments Zare carefully didn’t go into too much detail on!]

Phew! What’s caught my eye then?

Probably the first session in the Main Group symposium. Rab Mulvey’s keynote gave a good overview of his work adding metals to organic compounds that don’t normally like to be metallated – and with metals that don’t normally like to be added. Metals outside of Group 1 are a bit shy of being added, but if there’s a Group 1 metal there to hold their hand, it can be done. It’s illustrated well in this Angewandte Chemie cover with the punning subtitle “Check M(etall)ate”. I think this needs explaining! Thankfully, he did: the queen (Na, Li) is normally the most powerful piece on the board (best at metallating), but this time it’s the lowly knight (Cr, Mn, Fe) that is holding the king (benzene or similar) in check, with the queen (Na, Li) covering (synergically bonding). Great analogy!

I also enjoyed Mikael Håkansson’s talk. He started with a quotation from McMurry’s Organic Chemistry that you can’t generate optical activity from non-optically active starting materials. Wrong! Håkansson showed some examples of chiral Grignard intermediates that are racemic in solution, but only one form crystallises. Induce crystallisation and you’ve got something chiral from achiral starting materials. If you then do a reaction in a solvent that promotes the reactions while hindering racemisation, you can go on to make other chiral compounds. I talked to him during the coffee break and he said he’s hoping other people take the idea forward, because at the moment the compounds he’s made aren’t too useful. Watch this space.

And finally…beware inorganic chemistry journal editors with the same ‘hairstyles’ (or rather, lack of) – an author of a Perspective in the next issue got confused by my similarity to Jamie Humphrey, editor of the RSC’s Dalton Transactions. What do you think? Separated at birth [scroll down]?

Jamie HumNeil

Neil Withers (Associated Editor, Nature Chemistry)